Community feature: Local students to march for gun control in Columbus and D.C.

Erica Thompson
Kanyinsola Oye

Seventeen people died in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14. Although the tragedy occurred more than 1,000 miles south of Columbus, local students felt the impact.

“I think it was very shocking for all of us and we realized how easy it was for something like that to happen at our school,” said 17-year-old Kanyinsola Oye, a senior at Columbus Alternative High School (CAHS). “I was in English class one day and I was thinking, ‘This is the best room to jump out of if a shooter does come into my school.' And I think that adults have to take a second and realize how terrible it is for a student to be thinking that, especially if we're supposed to be focusing on our education.”

Following the Parkland shooting, Oye went into organizer mode. On Feb. 22, in conjunction with the CAHS chapter of Amnesty International, she helped lead a rally at the Statehouse to advocate for stricter gun laws. That same day, her op-ed about the community protest appeared on theTeen Vogue website.

Then, on March 14, she helped organize CAHS students' participation in the National School Walkout for gun control. Other Central Ohio schools joined in and garnerednational attention.

Currently, she is one of the local student organizers of the Columbus chapter of March for Our Lives, a worldwide, student-led initiative to “demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools.”

On Saturday, March 24, March for Our Lives will take to the streets in D.C. and more than 800 other locations. The Columbus march will begin at West Bank Park Downtown, proceed to a rally at the Statehouse, and return to the park.

Local organizer Erick Bellomy, 23, was inspired to spearhead the Columbus event due in part to the death of his father, who was shot and killed by a relative last October. “He was the 101st murder in Columbus,” Bellomy said. “I literally made a post on Facebook about there being 100 murders in Columbus, and then never did I know that my dad was gonna be the 101st.”

“There are so many different instances that I know, just from living where I live, where someone has died as a result of a gun,” Bellomy continued. “It has to stop. I'm tired of seeing it. I'm tired of hearing about it. … And I'd rather step in now so another family doesn't have to feel what I feel.”

“Sometimes people think that when we're talking about gun violence, we can pick and choose what we want to address,” Oye said. “But with this march, it's not only addressing mass shootings … it's also addressing police brutality, gun violence through homicides [and] gun violence through suicides. It's addressing all forms.”

Still, there will be a significant presence of students from Central Ohio and beyond advocating for safer schools. And Oye is just one of dozens of student organizers. They are bringing in entertainment and multiple speakers, including a Parkland shooting survivor. They've also invited politicians to sit by their displayed names in the VIP section to listen.

“It will show … which representatives are there, which representatives sent their aides, and who we need to vote out of office to make sure that our kids stay safe,” Bellomy said.

Ohio students, educators and adults will also voice their concerns in D.C., as Columbus-based transportation company RISE Travel will take 150 people on three buses to the national march.

“RISE is about giving a voice to everyone, and especially those that don't feel like their voices are heard,” said owner Christian Tamte. “And so this especially was something we wanted to jump on right away, because it's something that we're passionate about. It's well past time for us to do something about the gun violence in America, especially having to do with our children.”

During the bus ride, there will be group discussions and workshops, with youth leading conversations.

“I don't think that we let our kids know that their voices are important,” Tamte said. “I'm so proud of these young people that are out there making a change. … They are on point. They know what they want, and they are loud and they are focused and right now they are pissed off.”

March for Our Lives

West Bank Park

11 a.m. Saturday, March 24

303 W. Main St., Downtown